Celebration: Improviganza for 20 years of Sunday Evening Concerts at Eagle Rock Center for the Arts, March 5.


It was 20 years ago today
Cline and Salmon brought the weird to play
They have never ever been in style
But they're guaranteed to raise a smile
So let them introduce to you
The series lurking all these years
Sunday Evening Concerts, Eagle Rock!

1997: Alex Cline and Will Salmon (Open Gate Theater) wanted to provide a once-a-month venue for extreme improvisation. The musicians in their circle, though masters at the highest level, had few opportunities to show their stuff, so Cline & Salmon found a locus to center the community. (The old train station that houses the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts is the third and longest-running site.) In part due to Alex & Will's consistent efforts, the Los Angeles avant-improv community has slowly grown into an institution respected worldwide. It's sure not a pop buzz, but across the United States, in Europe, in Japan and other places, the few who should know about it do.

To celebrate the series' two decades, Cline invited dozens of players who've performed at SEC. He broke 'em down into 10 sequences of smaller units, then let everyone rise up under the direction of Phillip Greenlief. Here are a few snapshots.

* Walking in, I heard a burbling wail from Kaoru and the twang of a pipa (Asian lute) from Jie Ma.

* A nonet anchored by Bobby Bradford (cornet) and Vinny Golia (sopranino) made me smile with its Albert Ayler-like mass churn and tuba player William Roper's intelliprole jokes.

* Vocalist Bonnie Barnett paid tribute to the late Dottie Grossman by reading some of Grossman's poetry ("Christ-colored nail polish") and leading some open improv. It called up memories of Dottie's final performance, which happened to be at this very place five years ago.

* On three berimbaus and a tawitol (single-string poles from Brazil and Mexico), Brad Dutz, Garth Powell, Jonathan Saxon and Christopher Garcia established drones that spurred eerie, unusual improvisations by an ensemble also featuring Alex Cline, Brad Dutz, Vinny Golia, Ross Hammond, G.E. Stinson and others. Memorable.

* Dwight Trible wailed wordless blues while G.E. Stinson's slide demonstrated that the Chicagoan truly is a bluesman deep down, and Bobby Bradford and Dan Clucas blew Mississippi River mudwater out of their horns (along with some kind of Texas peyote mixture). John Lee Hooker would have both flinched and clapped.

* A bunch of flutes and abstract vocals by Emily Hay, Will Salmon and Ellen Burr played call/response while Wayne Peet went to Alpha Centauri on keyboards.

* Trible and Kaoru joined some of the above gang (the omnipresent Steuart Liebig on augmented bass) for an exquisite electronified expansion on the notion of singing that grew and grew until it sounded like an apocalyptic Macedonian High Mass.

* What was this -- Golia and Greenlief on dueling ocarinas? Peter Kuhn, Eric Barber and others piled into richly harmonized woodwind sustains; the riffs sounded like bird swarms and torture shrieks. "Life is complex," reads my notebook.

* The horns of Daniel Rosenboom and Gavin Templeton, driven by the drums of Garth Powell, followed up a gnarly bass duet (Jeff Schwartz and Devin Hoff) with a rocking-chair swing counterpunch. Or something creative.

* All together now. Conductor Greenlief gestured and pointed here and there. Individuals and subunits mixed fragments. Trible ("Looooove!"), Salmon (Uhhhhhh!") and Kaoru ("Aieeyaeeyaaa!") harmonized with unexpected beauty. Cline socked into a fusion stomp then quit as if shot. A lot of other things, too. It ended with two flutes holding a high chord like the last silk thread suspending the doomed world.

There were many hugs before, during and after. As the drained audience filed out, Trible stood in awe by the door and remembered how he'd been brought into the fold a few years ago. "This music," he exhaled. "It's NECESSARY."

* * *

An incomplete list of players: Dan Clucas, Bobby Bradford, Daniel Rosenboom, Bruce Friedman, William Roper, Vinny Golia, Phillip Greenlief, Alexander Vogel, Eric Barber, Ellen Burr, Emily Hay, Peter Kuhn, Richard Wood, Gavin Templeton, Will Salmon, Dwight Trible, Bonnie Barnett, Kaoru Mansour, G.E. Stinson, Ross Hammond, Jie Ma, Scott Heustis, Steuart Liebig, Jeff Schwartz, Devin Hoff, Darryl Tewes, Wayne Peet, Garth Powell, Breeze Smith, Brad Dutz, Christopher Garcia, Jonathan Saxon, Alex Cline.